The dairy industry is in a national emergency, or at least through my own lens we are. After four years of low milk prices, rising input costs, labor issues, and so much more . . . so much stress sits on our shoulders and deep in our minds. It weighs down our hearts.
While I think I'm a pretty smart person, at the end of the day, I have no answers on how to help make things better. This is a real tough pill to swallow because like most of you, I am a problem solver.
I see so many of my friends, my fellow dairy farmers, more stressed than ever before. They are so overwhelmed, and I just want them to know, I see you. I see you stressing over the checkbook. I see you stressed over planning for the future. I see you stressed over how you are going to care for the family. I see you becoming more and more depressed. Sadly, you are not alone.
One night, not too long ago, I was wide awake with worry. I came across the saying, "Love thyself as thy neighbor." If we did this, I wholeheartedly believe the world would be a better place. My mind spiraled, and I reached out to our good dairy friends at Culver's restaurant. I asked if they would assist me with a pay-it-forward, “let’s help our neighbor” plan.
I told Culver's that I was worried about the depression epidemic in dairy farmers. They were more than willing to help me pay it forward and gifted meal voucher coupons to give to dairy families in need of a good, nutritious meal that they don't have to worry about. These farmers could just drive to their local Culver's restaurant, sit down, and enjoy. If they didn’t have time in-between milkings to do that, they could grab it to go and eat on the way. Thanks to Culver's, I passed on a friendly note and these vouchers to 10 families that I knew could use a boost of kindness.
I had friends who called me this winter. They were crying. They were venting. Then there were some who I normally hear from who were just plain quiet. That is where real worry set in, and I knew I had to do something. Anything. But, at the end of the day, I'm limited because like you all, I have a farm and family to care for, and we're facing the very same issues and stress. I, too, am overwhelmed. That is why I reached out to Culver's to see if they could lend a helping hand.
When my kids began school, I always told them, "See a person who could use a friend and be that friend." And I'm telling you all the very same message. We are all hurting and need to look out for one another. So, if you see a person who could use a friend, be that friend.
Show up with a casserole, a helping hand, a listening ear, a caring heart, and a hug. And when you think you cannot do anything to help a person out, a gift card to buy dinner might do more than just fill their belly. It will fill their heart with a gentle reminder of kindness.
In a world that we are all hurting in, let's try to spread kindness, especially to the quiet ones who can't ask for help.
Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.